Dating Games


Whitney Erin Boesel in New Inquiry:

It’s sometime past two in the morning, and I’m trying to make interchangeable sets of torsos, heads, and limbs that fit together to make impossible bodies. I’ve answered a Call for Papers for a conference on gamification and, since one of the suggested topic areas is “personal relationships,” I’m designing a vaguely rummy-like card game about online dating. (The conference encourages experimental formats.)

My game is called “OkMatch!” which not only puns two popular online-dating sites—OkCupid! and—but also captures many people’s ambivalence toward the prospects they find on such sites: “okay” matches (if they’re lucky). In the game, players try to assemble a complete “partner” by accumulating 11 body-part cards, each assigned a profile attribute (height, education level, zodiac sign, etc.) with point values. It’s easier to draw, say, a +1 right thigh than a +5 one, so players must decide whether to hold out or “settle” for the lower value card they already have. The game ends when one player completes a partner (and so earns a 15-point bonus), but whoever has the most points “wins.”

The highest-scoring possible partner—one with +5 attribute types in all attribute categories—is a visual catastrophe. This person is the exquisite corpse gone wrong, a biologically impossible remix of different ages, races, genders, sizes, and abilities. This is my less than subtle way of suggesting that the ideal partner we fantasize about is usually an absurd abstraction. Even a person with all the specifications we think we want would not be perfect for us, because there’s still so much left to go wrong (even when all those things are “right”). There’s also the minor technicality that even when we think we know what we want, we probably don’t. How often are we excited to get exactly the person we want, only to discover within a few months that they’re not so great after all? If we “know what we want,” and yet whom we want rarely turns out to be that, perhaps the fault lies not in our partners, dear Brutus, but in our self-awareness.

People love to get up in arms about online dating, as if it were so terribly different from conventional dating—and yet a first date is still a first date, whether we first encountered that stranger online, through friends, or in line at the supermarket. What’s unique about online dating is not the actual dating, but how one came to be on a date with that particular stranger in the first place.